“One of the main trends in the supplements market,” explains Catalent’s Lin, “is consumer demand for all-natural and animal-free formulations.” She also points to increasing consumer demand for foods and food supplements that are “produced without genetically modified organisms [GMOs], hormones, or artificial ingredients. This is in addition to the growing number of people interested in following a vegetarian-based diet, with several non-vegetarian markets looking for animal-free supplements” as well, she says.
To meet these market demands, Catalent developed Vegicaps: plant-based softgel shells from carrageenan that are free of both GMO ingredients and animal derivatives. “Supplement products based on this technology are compatible with the consumer demand for all-natural products” as well as requirements for gluten-free, vegetarian, and low-sugar lifestyles, Lin says, while retaining the advantages of the standard softgel: easy to swallow, odor-free, and taste-free. Vegicaps are also biodegradable and available in various colors, shapes, sizes, and clarities.
Capsugel’s Lowery confirms growing demand for vegetarian, all-natural, non-GMO, and “clean” delivery formats for encapsulating supplement formulations meeting those same requirements. What’s more, she says, “Vegetarian capsules offer additional specific benefits. Because of their lower moisture content, vegetarian capsules are ideal for encapsulating hygroscopic ingredients that absorb or attract moisture from the air, especially botanicals, botanical extracts, and probiotics.”
She continues, “Some vegetarian capsules offer acid-resistant properties in the shell that protect ingredients like probiotics, enzymes, and amino acids from stomach acids and open closer to the intestines where the ingredients work better—with no external coating required.” The company’s Vcaps and Vcaps Plus vegetarian capsules feature low moisture levels down to 3% (for manufacturers who can control the relative humidity in their manufacturing environment), and its DRcaps vegetarian capsules incorporate “unique acid-resistant polymer properties” that slow disintegration after swallowing.
A fourth “highly original vegetarian capsule technology” offered by Capsugel, called DUOCAPS, “addresses the complicated delivery issues of combining a prebiotic-probiotic supplement,” Lowery explains. “Both ingredients can be delivered at different intervals via a capsule-within-a-capsule technology” that provides both a “synergistic digestive effect and moisture protection to prevent early activation of the probiotic.” Both capsules, the inner and outer, are made from plant-based HPMC.
The company’s Licaps nitrogen-flushed, hermetically sealed capsules—designed to protect the stability and quality of liquids prone to oxygen-related degradation—are also available in a vegetarian version.
Likewise, Robinson Pharma, which describes vegetarian and vegan softgel products as “an upward spiraling growth trend,” recently announced an expansion to six softgel machines solely dedicated to vegetarian softgel production, to achieve what it called in a press release “one of the largest capacities and fastest turnaround times in the industry for vegetarian softgels.” The company recently expanded production capacity to “3 billion vegetarian softgels per year to meet demand.” According to the company, its vegetarian softgels feature improved softness and appearance, ranging from bright colors to more subtle, translucent finishes. Robinson says it recently developed a “unique vegan multivitamin” in softgel form that contains more than 20 vitamins, minerals, and nutrients in one dosage.
Capsugel’s Lowery also highlights the growing need for capsules with third-party certifications affirming vegetarian, vegan, non-GMO, Kosher, Halal, and organic status. These “are best for encapsulating clean-label ingredients so that the entire product can meet those clean-label requirements that appeal to an ever-growing number of healthy-lifestyle consumers worldwide. This can help create greater and easier market distribution and penetration globally.”
Capsules and Softgels Maintain a Place in Supplement Delivery
Continued innovation and added value keep capsules and softgels a smart choice for supplement brands, even in the face of more trendy delivery forms. Particularly for ingredients with low stability, strong odor, and vulnerability to oxidation, and for formulations requiring a particular type of release (quick, controlled, or delayed), capsules and softgels remain a smart option.
Following general lifestyle trends, developments in capsule and softgel delivery include plenty of plant-derived options, non-GMO options, low- or no-sugar options, gluten-free options, and all-natural options. Supplement brands keeping abreast of lifestyle trends and choosing their delivery forms accordingly are well-positioned to successfully keep up with consumer expectations.